Safety experts advise parents to make plans for emergency situations and then teach their children what to do. For instance, everyone should know where to meet if the house is burning. The family may agree to gather at the mailbox, the basketball goal, or the utility shed in the backyard. This safety procedure prevents a frantic parent from needlessly reentering a blazing home to rescue a child who is already safe outside.
Thoughtful people recognize that a house fire isn’t the only thing that can separate loved ones. Death has a way of emptying one chair after another around the family table. The new disciples in Thessalonica worried that their deceased brothers and sisters would miss the great assembling of the saints promised at the Lord’s return. But Paul assured the church that there was no need to “grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. […] For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:13-17).
Of course, to experience this joyous reunion we must live and die “in Christ” (1 Thess. 4:16). Death will separate us from Christian relatives and friends. Have we designated a place to meet again? The final stanza of an old hymn (“Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”) reads: “One by one their seats were emptied. One by one they went away. Now the family is parted. Will it be complete one day?”